Create a Network of Key Advisors and Partners
The value of good advisors
Experienced farmers know the value of good advisors and partners can be measured in a producer’s bottom line.
Doug Soukup, an Iowa farmer, looked for a crop advisor with the depth of knowledge to improve his growing practices: “My agronomist taught me how to efficiently raise a good crop.”
Vic Serbus, a Minnesota producer, hired a marketing advisor for his hog operation to take some of the risk out of marketing. “It helps us sleep better at night,” he said.
Dean Guier built a relationship of mutual trust with his lender. “He is key to my success.”
Experienced farmers and ranchers offer practical wisdom
As part of a joint project between Farm Journal and Farm Credit Services of America (FCSAmerica), experienced farmers and ranchers offered practical wisdom on a number of topics aimed at helping young and beginning producers, including the need for a solid network of advisors and partners. In addition to agronomists and nutritionists, lenders and marketing advisors, farmers wrote of the need for good insurance agents, lawyers and accountants.
Identifying the right advisors depends on the needs of each operation. As a business grows and changes, so too will the mix of advisors. But the main criteria when hiring or doing business with an advisor is always the same: Look for experts who put the success of an operation ahead of allegiances to particular brands or companies.
Soukup said he knows he has a good crop advisor because the advice is based on knowledge that improves his farm.
Look for advisors who have been through cycles
Rachel Mehlhaf, a financial officer with FCSAmerica’s Sioux Falls, S.D., office, said young and beginning producers also would be well served to look for advisors who have been through the cycles inherent to agriculture: “With the ever-changing laws and world environment, it is advantageous to have someone who is not a jack of all trades, but rather an expert in the field.”
Professional advisors “must have an ag background and/or experience in handling ag-related issues,” said Steve Sigdestad, a South Dakota farmer. “Once you think you have everything figured out, laws and rules will change.”
Find advisors who specialize in agriculture
Marshall Nelms, vice president of insurance with FCSAmerica’s Lincoln, Neb., office, said this advice is important when insuring crops: “Look for an agent who specializes in crop insurance. With the complexity and constant changing of programs and rules, this is important. The latest changes in the Farm Bill are great examples of the need for an insurance agent who understands agriculture and works side by side with customers to look out for their operations best interest.”
Mike Hofer, a Wyoming farmer, noted that “a good insurance agent will help you minimize risk, so a lender wants to invest in you.”
Build a good relationship with a lender
Mehlhaf offered other advice for building a good relationship with a lender:
- Develop a written business plan that is updated and presented annually to the lender.
- Be open about your entire business, sharing successes and areas where improvement is needed.
- Build a strong credit history by making payments on time. If problems arise, give the lender advance warning. Lenders do not want surprises.
- If there is an issue with the lender in how something was handled, bring it to the lender’s attention.
“Honesty and integrity go a long way in building trust with the lender,” Mehlhaf said.
Talk with fellow farmers and ranchers
There is one other group of advisors that experienced farmers identified as critical to success – fellow farmers and ranchers.
“My primary source of information is from other farmers,” said Andy Milstead, a Mississippi farmer. “I love talking to farmers about how they do things. You can learn new things to do, as well as those things not to do.”
Milstead attended the Farm Journal Corn College and recommends it to other producers. The presenters, he said, “are well known and very serious about what they teach. And all the people you meet at the events are very good farmers and very serious about what they do.”
An Indiana farmer shared Milstead’s enthusiasm for networking with his peers: “Young farmers, as well as those with years of experience, have ideas and knowledge I can put to good use in my operation. It’s always good to listen to others and find ideas you can use and broaden your thinking.”